written by Chandana Balasubramanian
About 150 children in Finland and a total of 450 individuals have fallen ill from Salmonella poisoning. Most affected individuals are from daycare centers in the city of Jyväskylä. The cause of this outbreak is suspected to be lettuce imported from Germany via Sweden . Though Salmonella outbreaks have been declining, the 2021 Finland outbreak is one of many reported worldwide this year. As our world continues to shrink due to globalization, it is getting harder for public health agencies to monitor and prevent Salmonella outbreaks from imported foods.
This year, Sweden has also reported a national Salmonella outbreak that affected more than 30 people . In June, melons sourced from Costa Rica, Honduras, or Brazil were the most likely cause of a Salmonella outbreak of 200 people across ten countries, including Finland, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, United Kingdom, Canada, and Switzerland . In the United States, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) initiated a ‘Food Safety Alert’ after detecting 102 infected cases across 14 states due to contaminated seafood that originated in Colorado .
One of the biggest challenges in catching Salmonella in imports is the fact that the bacteria is mainly found in fresh produce and other foods with a short shelf life. This hurdle is made even more complex because of the popular hub-and-spoke model of centralized food distribution. In this model, one country in a region acts as a centralized hub that processes fresh produce, meat, or poultry. This food is then exported to several countries simultaneously. By the time infections are reported, most of the contaminated inventory may have already been consumed – either on its own or mixed with other batches – or thrown away. This makes it difficult to obtain enough samples to test and trace the country of origin .
A History of Salmonellosis in Finland
Let’s take a closer look at Finland. At 9.29 cases per 100,000 population, Finland has the highest rate of Salmonellosis among Nordic countries despite its stringent controls and processes .
Before 2021, the biggest Salmonella outbreak in Finland was in 2008. Pre-chopped and ready-to-eat Iceberg lettuce happened to be the prime suspect for the 2008 Salmonella outbreak in Finland. There were 77 confirmed cases, and two elderly patients died .
Finland has seen a steady decline in Salmonellosis since 1995, when the country initiated its national Salmonella control program. The Finnish national Salmonella control program (FSCP) mandates regular testing of cattle, poultry, and pigs, including eggs and meat. Lab test results are evaluated by the Finnish Food Agency monthly. There are stringent checks and balances included throughout their entire supply chain.
The FSCP measures have helped lower the rates of homegrown Salmonella. However, like many other countries, Finland needs a faster and more effective way to monitor and prevent the bacteria from being brought in from other countries, either through travel or cross-border food imports .
List of Prominent Salmonella outbreaks in Finland*:
- 1976: 550 cases were reported due to contaminated mayonnaise prepared in Spain and served on four international flights (Las Palmas-Helsinki, Las Palmas-Honover).
- 1986: 226 cases from packaged meals offered to train and air passengers.
- 1992: 224 cases due to contaminated mung beans.
- 1994: 210 cases in Southern Finland due to alfalfa seeds.
- 1995: 242 cases were reported in Finland (and the U.S.) due to alfalfa seeds imported from a Dutch supplier.
- 2001 – 2003: 666 cases reported in Norway, Finland, and Swedish tourists infected by contaminated poultry.
- 2001: 303 cases
- 2002: 164 cases
- 2003: 199 cases.
- 2007: 8,453 cases (almost 30% of the population) due to contaminated water in the town of Nokia, Finland. It is the largest reported water-borne outbreak in Finland .
- 2008: 107 cases in Newport and Reading, Finland due to contaminated lettuce.
- 2015: 122 cases in Finland due to an ice hockey team event in Latvia.
- 2021: 450 cases due to contaminated lettuce imported from Germany via Sweden.
*Data sourced from GIDEON – the comprehensive Global Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology Online Network database. The GIDEON platform also lists notable cross-border Salmonellosis events in Finland.
Public health agencies worldwide continue to worry about keeping Salmonellosis cases down in their respective countries. But in this hyper-connected world, it can prove challenging. A comprehensive database such as GIDEON that tracks outbreaks as they happen across the world may be a viable solution.
What is Salmonellosis? What are the Symptoms of Salmonellosis?
Salmonellosis is the infection acquired from ingesting the zoonotic bacteria Salmonella. The most common way to get Salmonellosis is by eating raw or undercooked meat, eggs, or fruit and vegetables that have not been washed and handled correctly.
Salmonellosis is highly contagious, and you can get sick from any person, animal, or thing that carries the Salmonella bacteria. The bacteria are transmitted to our mouths from contaminated humans or animals feces fecal-oral transmission). Other risk factors for Salmonella poisoning are travel to high-risk countries with poor sanitation and exposure to birds and reptiles being kept as pets.
Symptoms of Salmonellosis include:
- Stomach cramps
They usually last four to seven days and begin within 12 to 72 hours of consuming the contaminated food .
How is Salmonella poisoning diagnosed?
Here is where local laboratory test results play a significant role in helping curb the spread of Salmonella. Usually, stool or blood samples are used to test for Salmonella. Once detected, many countries have protocols that require these labs to report positive incidences of Salmonella to approved public health laboratories for serotyping and DNA fingerprinting.
Around the world, we can also enable on-ground clinicians to play a stronger role in identifying Salmonella cases early and preventing its spread. Having access to data on outbreaks as they happen can help public health officials detect the origin of infection much sooner and more effectively.
How To Prevent Salmonellosis?
Good immunity is the best line of defense against Salmonella. Our natural stomach acid can help fight salmonella poisoning. However, there is a greater risk of infection for those with impaired immune functioning due to:
- the overuse of antacids,
- effects of antibiotics,
- age – infants and the elderly,
- pregnant women, and
- lowered immunity from chronic illnesses like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and other conditions like AIDS, Malarial infections, and more.
Other ways to minimize the risk of getting Salmonella is to:
- always wash your hands before you eat, after touching animals, using the toilet, or changing diapers,
- clean food preparation areas, and
- minimize the intake of raw and uncooked food and meat. If fresh produce is to be consumed raw, then it must be washed thoroughly.
Note: Foods containing Salmonella do not smell or look different from uncontaminated food. Washing hands and following food safety guidelines is your best bet to mitigate risk.
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